Tending to Life, 2023 
Imani Works, Orange, VA // Soil from Orange, VA, Read oak, apalachian ragwort, Willow oak, wild blackberries, Velvet panicum, Caribou lichen, and time. 

"Looking through Black epistemologies and affirming the theoretical and practical purchase of them, both Black geographies and Black ecologies challenge analyses and histories of Black people and their places as additive to existing accounts….Where aliveness sets the parameters.” - Kevin Quashie, Black Aliveness or a Poetic of Being 

"Dust to dust, ashes to ashes, ashes to sand, sand to rock, rock to clay, clay to soil, soil to plant." - Vanessa Agard-Jones. 

 Using the ground as a site of thinking – a place that simultaneously moves and prohibits movement (death) the body is read in relation to the land. This work takes on the consequences of colonial impressions and forms new relations of plants and people unstructured by a plantation forum. Plants allow us to not only think of ourselves as consumers, laborers, or tenders to plants but as being closer to plant life.

LaRissa Rogers site-specific installation ‘tending to life’ was created while in residence at The Arts Center in Orange. The public installation is located as at the Imani Works Farmashrammonastery. Building off of previous installations by Rogers throughout Central Virginia, this work asks the viewer to examine the question, “Who and what survives?”

In Christina Sharpe’s In The Wake, On Blackness and Being, she speaks about residence time. She describes the residence of sodium held within the body as being 260 million years, in relation to the enslaved Africans who were thrown, jumped, or dumped in the ocean during the middle passage. This residence time allows one to begin to think through the terms in which we understand the conditions of Black suffering and presence. In contrast to water, the body takes approximately 200 years to return to dust when buried in the ground. As the nutrients of the body disintegrate back into the earth, how can thinking through residence time in the soil help us understand what it means to be surviving, when survivance is in the ground? 

Regarding soil as the literal foundation of the rich history that surrounds us through the cultivation of food and medicinal plants, a repository for deeply human stories of trauma and displacement, and the fountainhead of future regeneration and possibility, ‘tending to life’ invites visitors to meditate on the power of place and the role of certain flora and fauna in the self-liberation and healing of Black and enslaved people during their escape for freedom and within their own communities post-Reconstruction. 

During her residency with The Arts Center, LaRissa Rogers met with community members from diverse backgrounds to discuss their family histories and connections to the region; explored her own family’s history and archives; and worked with three young women (Makysha Tolbert,  Nikita Lightfoot Simms, and Demitia Hopkins-Greene) to create the sculptural forms in the meadow at Imani Works. The insallation location is in proximity to sentinel oaks, unmarked slave graves, and Robert E. Lee's campground. The plants and herbs grown in the soil bodies were harvested on-site, and placed in locations where the women Rogers collaborated with held trauma within their bodies. The plants used include: Read oak, apalachian ragwort, willow oak, wild blackberries, velvet panicum, and caribou lichen. The installation transforms with the seasons, eventually returning the soil bodies back to the earth. 

* Below is a list of local plants and herbs with their medicinal usages. These plants were forged by enslaved ancestors, harvested  from the Meadow were the installation is located, and  placed within the soil bodies for the installation:

Willow oak: A decoction of the wood chips or bark is applied externally as an analgesic and as a bath for aches, pains, sores, cuts and haemorrhoids. 

Red oak: The bark is used to treat a variety of digestive issues, while the leaves and inner bark have been used to treat cuts and burns. 

Appalachian Ragwort: is used to suppress menstruation. Native Americans, early settlers, and herbalists used it to speed childbirth and to induce abortion.

Blackberries: used for food.

Caribou lichen: used to make a tea, and treat diarrhea. It is also used as a laxative, a cough suppressant, to assist blood formation and to treat loss of appetite, gastritis, inflammation of the mouth, the pharynx and the intestines.

Velvet panicum

Using Format